French Open Tennis
Li Na reached her second successive grand slam final with a 6-4 7-5 victory over Maria Sharapova at the French Open. The sixth seed, who lost to Kim Clijsters at the Australian Open, took advantage of Sharapova’s serving struggles to add the Russian to an impressive list of scalps in Paris, including Petra Kvitova and title favourite Victoria Azarenka.
‘the most recent of those came on grass at Edgbaston last year and Sharapova certainly went in as the favourite after thrashing Andrea Petkovic in the quarter-finals.
Both players list clay as their least favourite surface, with the Russian once famously describing her movement on the red stuff as like a cow on ice, but she has grown in confidence this week.
She did almost come a cropper in the second round, though, trailing French teenager Caroline Garcia by a set and 4-1 before mounting one of her trademark comebacks.The swirling wind had affected Sharapova that day and conditions were very similar today, which was certainly a factor in Li winning the opening three games.
The seventh seed pegged her back to 4-3 and then 5-4 but she could not hold onto her serve, throwing in five double-faults in the set and missing a simple forehand on set point.
Sharapova seemed to have turned things around with an early break in the second set but her serving demons were never far away and a seventh double-fault helped Li to level at 4-4.
The Chinese player was now firmly in the ascendancy and, with Sharapova serving to stay in the match for a second time, Li created two set points, taking the first on Sharapova’s 10th double.Sharapova admitted it had not been her best performance but did not blame the wind, saying only: “It’s tough for me, it’s tough for her.
“She played a very good match. She certainly played a lot better than I did and a lot more solid. She played the crucial points better.
“I had some chances in the first set on her serve, a couple of games that went deuce and I had a couple of break points. I felt like I had a short ball and I just didn’t step in and then made an unforced error.
“Then you give your opponent confidence. At times I didn’t serve well and was rushing more than I had to. Considering the conditions, maybe I was just trying to go for too big second serves especially.”
Victory would have given Sharapova a great chance of completing a career grand slam but, after making the last four of a major for the first time since 2008, she had plenty of positives to reflect on.
The Russian said: “This was a great result for me here. It’s been a good season on clay. I had a great tournament (winning) in Rome, and I got to the semi-finals here after not being at this stage of a grand slam for a long time.
“I’m quite proud of what I’ve achieved here but I still feel like I have a lot of work to do. “It’s great that I have an opportunity to win all four. It didn’t happen this year but if I won another grand slam, whether it’s here or not, I think it will mean just as much and even more to me in my career than having it to be all four on different surfaces.”